31 August 2020 LESSONS Labour rights

Research, Advocacy and Action to Combat Gender-Based Violence in the Apparel Sector

Workers at a research facility using high tech equipment

This initiative aimed to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) against workers in the apparel sectors of Cambodia and Indonesia. It also looked at how an international standard to address GBV at work, led by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), could be linked at grassroots-level to women apparel workers.


  1. Strengthening women garment workers’ voices and leadership capacity to combat GBV in Cambodian and Indonesian workplaces, and;
  2. Growing the capacity of women garment workers in Cambodia, Indonesia and the broader region to participate in the ILO process for establishing international standards to address GBV at work.


Partner: Solidarity Center in co-operation with Just Associates

Investment: EUR 450,000

Duration: October 2017 to April 2019

Geographic region: Cambodia and Indonesia


The initiative succeeded in strengthening awareness and raising women’s voices against GBV at work.

The initiative gave women the confidence and agency to speak up about GBV in garment supply chain workplaces. Women's understanding of GBV was enhanced, which helped them to report instances of GBV, confront perpetrators and demand action from employers. In some instances, this even resulted in policy changes in the workplace.

At a couple of factories, there were no new terminations of employment for pregnant and lactating women, while in another factory in Cambodia, women noted that the general behaviour of men had improved. 

Factory-level trade unions in Indonesia included GBV in collective bargaining negotiations, and to action agreements to establish GBV-free zones in more than eight factories.

The initiative strengthened the capacity of women garment workers in Cambodia and Indonesia to participate in the ILO process to establish an international standard to address GBV at work.

Four women participated in the International Labour Conference (ILC) in 2018. The initiative motivated these participants to share information about the ILO Convention 190 among trade unions in Cambodia and Indonesia.

This provided opportunities for trade union representatives to engage with national decision-makers. The ILC process facilitated meeting of the nominated Cambodian trade union leaders with Cambodian government delegations, while the official Indonesian delegation included Indonesian participants. 

However, the extent to which worker testimonies and reports of cases of GBV directly influenced the deliberations regarding the ILO Convention 190 is unclear.

The GBV initiative was effective in spreading awareness – but more needs to be done to enable knowledge sharing and expand on the positive impact.

The GBV workshops conducted with union leaders were effective and contributed significantly to strengthening participants’ abilities to identify, document and respond to cases of GBV. However, those workers who had been sensitised to GBV were not mobilised to address GBV in their place of work, as originally expected and planned.

The anticipated transfer of knowledge from training and workshop sessions was limited by the lack of confidence among some of the trainees to share what they had learned with others. 

Training efficiency and effectiveness was also hampered by time constraints, variation in the interest of workers and finding suitable venues for training. 

The participatory research report shed light on GBV in the Cambodian and Indonesian garment industries but the research approach did not influence national and international decision-makers. Several limitations of the research hampered its use among decision-makers. For example, the research sample was too small to represent a convincing case for negotiations with employers or national authorities.

What did we learn?

Laudes Foundation

The participation of workers in international standard setting creates opportunities to engage with both international and national decision-makers and connect workers with key figures in positions of power.

For a bottom-up empowerment approach to be effective and sustainable, programmes need a time range of more than 18 months to empower women as change agents in addressing issues such as GBV, both individually and collectively. 

Coalition building is essential for worker collectives to develop joint advocacy strategies on GBV at workplaces that target national and sector-specific authorities and employers’ groups.

For Partners & Others

A bottom-up approach to participatory research on GBV improves workers’ awareness of GBV and empowers them to engage in fact-based negotiations with factory management.

Empowering workers to share their knowledge on GBV with others requires appropriate sensitisation to build their confidence. 

Workshops on sensitive issues such as GBV that are held with fewer participants create a safe space for women to learn and share experiences.